The price of riding: Austin City Council to vote on taxi rates Thursday


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Since the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, the city of Austin’s Transportation Department says they’ve seen a 75 percent drop in business when it comes to taxis. 

Thursday, June 28, the City Council will vote on an ordinance that, if passed, would change the way taxis operate when it comes to pricing. 

It’s a change the transportation department, or ATD, is hoping will become a reality to give taxi service companies a ‘competitive edge’ against ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. 

This would allow taxis the opportunity to set rates according to the market. 

ATD says the prices would have to be set by management and be fleet-wide. They would also have to post them on a rate card in the cab and online for customers to view. And, before any changes can be made, they have to notify ATD.

However, some taxi service companies, like Austin Cab Company, say they would rather keep it the way it is with the city’s set prices. 

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” said James Means III, assistant operations manager for Austin Cab Company.

He and the company believe this potential change will lead to some problems. 

“[This] does create a lot of conflict and possible conflict of interests between driver-to-driver and company-to-company that you can just do as you may,” he said. “And, that’s never been the best model in my opinion.”

Yellow Cab says they’re concerned that changing the rates would cause consumer confusion and “will diminish the ability of the driver to make a livable wage.”

It’s something traveler Kathy King says she wouldn’t be looking forward to doing the research. 

“I think that might be a little bit more work for me to do that,” she said. “I rather just now that whatever cab I get in is the same.”

Yellow Cab does, however, “agree with 95 percent of the changes to the ordinances.” They say they “recommend [ATD] separate the rate issue and pass the rest of the proposed ordinances,” and ask the council to take more time to study the rates. 

In a statement, Yellow Cab said, “We know of no other city that puts the rate-making process in the hands of the companies.”

But, during Tuesday’s City Council work session, Council Member Kathie Tovo asked ATD if they knew of other cities that had implemented this and ATD stated Atlanta had done this for a few years.

KXAN reached out to the city of Atlanta, but they have not responded yet. 

It’s not just the taxi rates that will be discussed at Thursday city council meeting, in a memo from ATD, it listed other changes to the city’s code which included:

  • Allow taxicab companies to increase or decrease taxicab vehicle fleet numbers based upon market needs on a quarterly basis.
  • Allow taxicab vehicles to operate with a simple State inspection certificate, eliminating additional third-party inspection requirements.
  • Allow taxicabs to use traditional or virtual meters.
  • Allow taxicabs to operate without specific color schemes or top lights (However, trade dress, markings and logos will still be required).
  • Allow taxicab companies to have dispatch call centers outside of the City, depending upon business needs.
  • Allow all-electric taxicab vehicles to operate with a reduced permit fee.
  • Incentivize taxicab companies to operate a fleet of more than 6.5 percent wheelchair accessible taxicabs by allowing wheelchair accessible taxicabs to operate with a reduced permit fee and wheelchair accessible taxicabs to operate free of any permit fee if a 5 percent or higher annual wheelchair ride ratio is met.

The city will also be discussing some changes to the way ground transportation like limousines. 

ATD says this is Phase II of ground transportation regulatory reform in hopes of streamlining ground transportation operations, including “eliminating superfluous code language,” and changes to inspection standards, driver credentials and hiring drivers. 

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